Film adaptations are often hard to crack, whether they are of the comic book, TV show, novel, or other type of variety. The stories being adapted may be timeless, and might lay the groundwork for a film adaptation, but hardcore fanbases are typically the hardest to please, accepting only the best out of their film adaptations to truly do justice to their passion for the material (spend any time at all on the internet if you don’t believe me). Oftentimes, we become fortunate enough to see certain types of adaptations finally begin to take a repeatable successful stride in this industry (as we’re more or less now seeing with comic book-based offerings from DC and Marvel). Then sometimes other types of adaptations, such as film adaptations of manga or anime, can take a bit more time to bake before the success stories can roll in (as we’ve seen with critical and box office disappointments, such as Dragonball Evolution, Netflix’s Death Note, or Ghost in the Shell).
This Thursday, February 14, the latest big-budget American studio adaptation of a beloved manga will hit theaters, when Fox’s Alita: Battle Angel is finally unleashed. The film, a labor of love for producer and co-writer James Cameron, is being helmed by genre-action director extraordinaire, Robert Rodriguez, and boasts a visually stunning realization of the future world of series creator Yukito Kishiro. Will this be the one to break the trend of disappointment regarding manga adaptations? Kishiro thinks so.
The Nerds of Color were fortunate enough to sit down with Kishiro to discuss the long journey and emotional payoff that has been seeing his work come to life before his very eyes.
NOC: Given that this is your vision, and this has not been adapted [in live-action] before, what did it feel like to see for the first time your entire world built out on-screen?
Kishiro [translated from Japanese]: Really, it’s a dream come true. Sometimes I worry that if I pinch myself, I’ll wake up, and everything’s going to be a lie.
Manga has traditionally been very difficult to adapt on screen, including works like Dragonball Evolution or Ghost in the Shell. Where do you feel that Alita is set apart from all of that? Where do you think they did it correctly, and how do you think it stands as the first real successful manga adaptation?
So I haven’t seen Dragonball Evolution, or the other works mentioned, but first and foremost a lot of [Alita’s success] we can attribute to the fact that Cameron and I have a lot of synergy between our world and the way we tell stories. I think a lot of his team members, a lot of the people he brought on to bring this to life, have shown me a lot of respect and cherished my ideas.
One of our big focuses at The Nerds of Color is seeing opportunities within Hollywood for Asian actors who don’t get a lot of opportunity. How do you feel about studios, in general, casting non-Asian actors in lead roles for parts that usually could be perceived as traditionally targeted towards Asian actors?
I personally am of the belief that if an actor is very talented or very skilled that they deserve the role regardless of what race or color they may be. Especially the world I created in Alita, it’s intentionally been a mixed cultural, very melting pot-type of world. So I think it really kind of stands that if you can play the part and you can demonstrate the proper type of talent, then it’s appropriate casting. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a Japanese person because it’s Alita. I don’t think there’s any reason to be fixated on that.
Alita: Battle Angel rocks theaters on February 14, 2019!